Fitbit R.I.P.

Google buys Fitbit

I was a happy Android user for around 7 years. Then Google abandoned tablets, so I got an iPad. Then they abandoned mid-price Nexus phones, so the choice was either to get an iPhone which would work seamlessly with my iPad, or to pay the same amount for a Google Pixel phone that wouldn’t, and would be obsolete sooner. That was a really easy choice.

Then Google abandoned even lip service to “Don’t be evil”. They donated $285,000 to Trump, and have continued donating to far-right candidates proclaiming (for example) the morality of executing homosexuals. There was the Dragonfly censored search engine which logged who searched for what, which they kept secret even from their own employees. They announced plans to package and sell cellphone location data, worked on military drones, invested in military AI, made large contributions to climate change deniers, and of course radicalized thousands into far-right extremism for profit.

I started removing my personal data from Google. I pulled all my e-mail, got rid of Google Docs in favor of iCloud, removed my calendars. When they decided to protect the abusive St*v*n Cr*wd*r even though he was clearly violating their policies, I canceled Google Music All Access (aka YouTube Red).

Today Google confirmed that it was buying Fitbit.

I liked my Fitbit. It helped motivate me to exercise, and helped me track my stress levels and how much sleep I was getting. Fitbit had one of the better privacy policies. In their statement, Google say:

We will never sell personal information to anyone. Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads. And we will give Fitbit users the choice to review, move, or delete their data.

Regarding the first promise, they’ve said they plan to start selling data, just anonymized (for whatever that’s worth, i.e. not much). Regarding the second promise, well, if they don’t plan to use Fitbit data for their core business, why exactly are they shelling out $2.1 billion to buy it? They already bought smartwatch hardware and software engineers from Fossil.

I decided the third option was the best for me. Call me paranoid, but I just don’t want my heart rate and other health data handed over to Google to cross-reference with my location and identity. Fortunately I’d been keeping Fitbit synced with Apple Health already, so it was just a matter of finding a replacement device.

The closest thing to a Fitbit is a Garmin wearable. However, the software experience from Garmin was generally described as miserable by those who expressed a preference to me. So I braced myself for the wallet pain and bought an Apple Watch.

This isn’t how it ought to be. You shouldn’t be forced to pay Apple prices to have devices built with privacy and security in mind. We need low cost alternatives to surveillance capitalism. The need is particularly acute in the mobile space, which is how most people connect to the Internet now.